Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Pocket Casts: A Podcast App With Listening Statistics and Tracking

If you are a regular podcast listener, you might be wondering how to track your listening. I found my answer in Pocket Casts app.

We are in the golden age of podcasting. There are so many great podcasts you can listen to. I’m currently hooked on the likes of Serial, Freakonomics and Presidential, b ut I also indulge in a number of niche podcasts too.

When it comes how you listen to a podcast, it’s never been easier. Depending on my travel and work schedule, I might listen to a single podcast in a day or several. I might listen for 30 minutes in a day or more. But I kept wondering exactly how much time was I listening to podcasts?

Podcast Tech Choices

When I got started on podcast listening several years ago, it was done by downloading mp3s and listening on your computer or uploading them to an MP3 player. I was studying Chinese and listening to ChinesePod. Now all you need is a smart phone. You can manage, download and listen via a single application.

Many link the rise of podcast listenership to Apple’s integration of a default and highly-functional Podcast app. But in actually both podcast productions and podcast tech have both improved significantly over the years, which have made for great selection and for ease of access. There are also a number of great third-party podcast apps on iOS and Android like Stitcher, Overcast and Pocket Casts as well as a plethora of lesser known but functional listening apps.

But which one should you use and why?

The obvious answer is you should use the one that works. But with so many functional and well-designed podcast apps, the answer to this question depends on not just on basic features but on secondary ones.

While not the best well-designed historically, Apple’s default podcast app works great. Equally I’ve used Overcast for several months without any complaints. Overcast brings a few nice audio improvements that allow you boost the vocal sound or speed up silences.

But if your goal is to track everything like mine currently, then what about your usage? Which app can tell you how much you are listening? Which gives you listening statistics?

Hey Apps, Give Me My Data

For me and anyone else who is dedicated to self-tracking and personal statistics, the question of our app and software selection comes with the added question about our data. Specifically, we want apps that provide us with measurable data.

If I use your app, I want to know about my usage. For example, there might be dozens or hundreds of meditation apps in the app stores, but, as I noted in “Tracking Your Meditation Sessions with Calm”, Calm is a one of the best meditation app since it provides me with a history and aggregate statistics.

Another good example of a single-purpose app with tracking is Audible. I’ve been a long-time user of Audible and Audiobooks, and one of the great additional features is being able to see your listening stats. Audible provides clear daily, weekly, monthly and total listening stats. This makes it easy to see how much you listen over a period of time. Audible also provides badges, which are an alternative representation of your usage data.

Once the basic function is provided I tend to use software that is also providing data-awareness, i.e. it tracks your usage and provides you with your usage data and statistics.

A Podcast App with Listening Statistics and Tracking

For podcast listening, I was sadly disappointed with how almost none of the top podcast apps provide listening stats. I spent a lot of time researching this question “podcast listening apps with statistics” to no avail. I ended up trying a bunch of podcast listening apps like Stitcher and Overcast too. Most of the discussion revolved around podcast creators searching for ways to extrapolate downloads to actual listens, since podcast files are shared in such an open platform.

My obsession with data tracking and disappointment about the lack of listening stats eventually led me to starting development on my own podcast app for iOS. After much research and initial dev, I got so far as creating a working MP3 player app that could play a series of tracks. That’s when I discovered Pocket Casts.

I had found my podcast app with tracking and listening statistics.

Pockets Cast is an attractive, simple and highly-functional podcast listening app. To summarize, Pockets Casts is a podcast manager/downloader and listener. Setup is simple. You subscribe to podcasts and either download them now or queue them to download later. You can also setup custom notifications for each subscription. Like Overcast, the listening aspect of Pockets Cast lets you adjust playback speed, trim silence and do volume boost. One of the add features is the queue which means you always got something up next to listen to.

But for me the “killer” feature that got me was statistics. Ironically it’s a feature that Pocket Casts doesn’t even listen on their website or app store description. You can find it hidden under Settings > Stats.

It’s not a perfect number. Unlike a service like Last.Fm which we looked at in detail in “Tracking the Soundtrack of Your Life”, Pocket Casts statistics leaves much to be desired. You can only see your total listening stats on Pocket Casts. In that sense, unlike Audible you don’t have a breakdown of daily, weekly or all-time stats. There are no nifty looking graphs either. It’s a single statistic of your total listening stats in days and hours and a bit of comparative stats on skin cells you’ve lost or how many times you’ve blinked.

But for a self-tracker like me, this data point is enough. Using the total number, I can subtract week to week to get my weekly count. I can look at this number month to month to get my monthly count. And as my usage continues, I can eventually extrapolate and get my year podcast listening statistic.

Conclusion:

In this golden age of podcasting, a lot of interesting developments are afoot. New tech is being developed and business models of distribution proposed. For now, we as podcast listeners are getting a lot of surplus value for free. We don’t have to pay for the content and we only have to suffer through a few minutes of advertisements.

It’s also easier than ever to start listening to podcast by using a number of great apps. Fortunately as a self-tracker, I’ve even found one that let’s me know more about my podcast listening habits. This single data point is enough to understand and answer the question, How much am I listening to podcasts?

Answer: Currently about 6 to 8 hours per week.

Ideally I hope that Pocket Casts can expand their listening statistics section to add a more nuanced breakdown of the tracking. I’ve upgraded my account to premium as a “vote” for my continued support.

Personally, I’d love more info on which podcasts I listen to the most and even the podcasts I most recently tried. There is currently no history of recent listens and since past downloads disappear, it’s up to you to note or remember what you listen to. There is a lot of data here that could be mashed up so you can better visualize usage over time. For now, I think a better breakdown of weekly, monthly and daily stats with charts is high on my wishlist.

Sadly a lot of apps today, even the most popular ones, don’t think about giving data back to their users. Facebook is a particularly bad player in this space, since while one might contribute to Facebook, you have no idea on a statistical level on how many pictures, posts, comments and likes you’ve added over time. It’s a black box where Facebook owns your data but doesn’t share it back.

While most users don’t care about checking their usage, I believe that more and more people do care about tracking their digital lives. I know I am being tracked, but in exchange for using your service (or app) for free or paid, I expect to have access to the data I create through my usage.

I also think that with the popularity of podcast listening, we will eventually see a stronger social element. In particular it would be great to have a way to show what you are listening to and connect to podcast listeners and creators. It might perhaps be a mix of a social network and logging like GoodReads or similar to a service like Last.FM or Trakt.TV where you passively or manually log your podcast listening and can discover related shows. The open nature of the podcast platform (built on XML syndication) creates challenges here. Though considering the size of the listenership market and increase in ad revenue, who knows what’s next?

When it comes to podcast listening, I was sadly disappointed by how many of the top apps provided no usage data. Fortunately I found a great podcast app like Pocket Casts that provides at a minimum a single data point (total listening time) to understand my podcast listening.

It’s one more tool in the tool belt in pursuit of my goal of tracking everything.

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